This Fall, the Sid Richardson Museum education staff embarked on an exciting adventure: a new class of docent volunteers!
Each year, thousands of visitors to Fort Worth visit the Sid Richardson Museum. Docents, professionally trained volunteers who lead tours for adults and children, share their knowledge and enthusiasm for the artworks, providing a valuable service for our art museum. Based upon need, The Sid offers a docent training program in the interpretation of its collection of artworks by Frederic Remington, Charles Russell, and other western artists. Participating in this program is a unique opportunity for adults to positively shape visitor’s attitudes about art and museums.
The semester-long course provides volunteers with the historical background and skills needed to conduct interactive, inquiry-based tours with learners of many ages and abilities. New docents had the opportunity to walk in the shoes of learners, to understand how we as kids and adults learn, whether that’s through multisensory experiences or activities and games. Featured speakers include local and regional academics, and museum professionals like Emily Wilson, Curator of Art at the Briscoe Western Art Museum and former Curator at the C.M. Russell Museum who spoke about the great cowboy artist. Dr. Mark Thistlethwaite, Professor of Art History Emeritus at TCU educated us on the life and work of Frederic Remington. Local educator Dr. Marta Torres demonstrated best practices for understanding and working with English Language Learners. Docents learned from theater educator Rachel Hull how to use the tenets of improv to help them in their tours:
o “Yes, and” – when something is offered (an idea, a question, or really any element of participation), accept what is given and build on it in a positive, productive way.
o Be present. If we are always thinking three steps or five minutes ahead, we can miss wonderful moments of discovery or connection. When learners offer ideas, questions, or any participation, it is on us to make sure that we are truly listening.
o Avoid saying “no.” The main spirit of this rule falls in line with rule #1: avoid shutting an offering down completely – think instead how you can understand the intention or thinking behind it, and try to redirect that energy.
o Lean into the “awkward.” It’s always good to give learners (and fellow educators) time to process and express. Try to let silences hang for a moment longer than you feel comfortable. This rule also reminds us not to shy away from trying new things for fear of judgement or failure. We’re all in this together!